Israel will become the first country to offer older citizens a coronavirus booster vaccine, according to reports.
People aged over 60 will soon be offered a third shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 jab despite criticism from the World Health Organization (WHO), which wants richer nations to focus on helping poorer countries vaccinate their people first.
Israelis will be able to get the booster shot as long as they received their second dose more than five months ago, local media said on Thursday.
It’s hoped the booster campaign, expected to be announced formally soon, will help slow the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.
Earlier this month, WHO’s director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus criticised plans from some rich countries to start a booster campaign while poorer nations were still struggling to vaccinate their population.
He said: “It’s becoming a two-tier system, and higher-income countries who are vaccinating their population significantly are starting to see the COVID-19 pandemic as if it’s not their problem. That is dangerous.”
He asked G20 nations to focus on increased vaccine manufacturing so they could donate more to poorer countries and to delay booster jabs for their citizens.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Prof Jonathan Van-Tam said the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation (JVCI) wanted people over 50 and those with high-risk conditions to get booster jabs in the autumn.
Northern Ireland head of the vaccination programme, Patricia Donnelly, also confirmed booster jabs would be rolled out in September.
Pfizer says it could apply for US emergency authorisation for booster shots as early as August and is also expected to apply to European regulators.
Israel was a world leader in the vaccination rollout, with many seniors getting their jabs in December, January and February as they were regarded as the most vulnerable sector of the population.
But since the emergence of the Delta variant, the health ministry has twice reported a drop in the vaccine's effectiveness against infection and a slight decrease in its protection against severe disease.
Reports said the head of Israel's health ministry gave health maintenance organisations the go-ahead to administer the third shot after Israeli experts approved the campaign late on Wednesday.
Last week, the health ministry estimated the vaccine was only 41% effective at halting symptomatic infections over the past month.
Protection against severe disease remained strong at 91%.
Around 160 people are hospitalized with severe symptoms and daily infections have spiked to more than 2,000, up from just a handful of cases per day a few months ago.
The cabinet hopes that the vaccines will allow it to avoid costly lockdowns by protecting those most vulnerable to severe disease, even as infections climb.